China-made COMAC C919 jet to make first commercial flight outside the mainland

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China’s C919 jet is set to make its first commercial flight outside mainland China on Saturday - albeit to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong - just over a year after the plane entered domestic service with state-owned carrier China Eastern.

Chinese planemaker COMAC is trying to quickly break into a passenger jet market dominated by Western manufacturers Airbus and Boeing that has been strained by aircraft shortages and a Boeing safety crisis.

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China Eastern charter flight MU7191 is scheduled to depart Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport on Saturday morning for Hong Kong, and to return in the afternoon, FlightRadar24 data shows.

The plane will carry around 100 students from Hong Kong, China Eastern and COMAC said on social media. COMAC in December flew a demonstration C919 to Hong Kong, which has its own border controls and a separate aviation regulator from the mainland.

No further C919 flights to Hong Kong appear in available flight schedules.

Only six single-aisle C919s are in service with China Eastern on three mainland routes, but COMAC this year has increased sales and production plans and has been marketing it to other countries, including growing aviation market Saudi Arabia.

Industry sources caution that COMAC is a long way from making inroads internationally, especially without benchmark certifications from the United States or European Union, or more efficient planes.

Gu Xin, director of the Shanghai Airworthiness Certification Center, which is part of China’s aviation regulator, told reporters in Shanghai this month it hopes to gain certification from Europe’s aviation regulator next year.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said the process will take whatever time is needed.

COMAC says about 1,000 C919s have been ordered, nearly all from Chinese airlines and lessors. The big three state-owned carriers China Eastern, Air China and China Southern have each ordered 100 of the planes.

The C919 competes against the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo jet families.

Shanghai-based China Eastern has trained around 60 pilots, 170 flight attendants, and 60 C919 maintenance personnel, it said on Chinese social media.

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